I represent the industry to speak in various university program from time to time as part of the company’s strategic engagement. I also get the opportunity to share a particular topic in company soft skills training and brown bag sharing. Often times, I will prepare materials and topics based on what’s “out there”. To the listener, it would sound like I am speaking in a 3rd person narrative.
I was asked to share a story as reference in one of of the company training event focusing on “storytelling“. The department invited an external trainer to teach how to craft a good story so that it can be used in presentations. They were looking for someone to prepare a short story based on the principles taught and use it as a case study in the tutorial. I am not sure how the organisers thought I would be a good candidate to provide a story, maybe I had a reputation.
Preparing the story
There were a few rules for the story that I have to prepare. The main rule that I remembered mostly is that it has to be my own story, it has to be from me and something that I experienced. I had a month to prepare the story but it was hard for me to come up with one. I am used to presenting from prepared points making this activity out of character for me. It took me a few tries and reviews with the presenter but I did cook up an acceptable personal story a few days before the class.
Part of the training, I realised that a lot of people present in 3rd person. The way to make a presentation engaging is to have you own story and not present as a 3rd person. When presentation is done in 3rd person, the audience feels dry and there’s little engagement because they are not invested in the story.
Putting into practice
A real test came one year later when I was invited to speak on a program management topic as part of a webinar for program managers in the site. The main goal of the presentation is to share about career path for program managers, something to keep the motivated to pursue the profession. I had many months to prepare the materials but the more I share about how generally career paths go, the more push back I get from the organisers. There seems to be a lot of sensitivity over the term “career paths” and my presentation gave the impression there is a formal process to go up the career ladder as a professional program manager. There are various program manager roles but a career paths would mean there is a defined criteria to move up the ladder, which was not the case. I can sense the frustration with the way I am putting the materials together that is more factual and “in general”.
Took a step back and wrote the presentation as a story of my journey. Started with key points in my career journey where I had to use program management skills. Followed through with a teaser about how I managed to be part of a great cause during the COVID-19 pandemic response. The story is built up by sharing the opportunities that I had taken to sharpen my program management skills like taking on difficult projects. The key message is how extra curricular activities in the company such as university program prepared me for this role in the COVID-19 vaccination program in the company where we vaccinated 14k people in and around the company. The audience felt the presentation was a good motivation for them as it opens up their minds about opportunities to use their program management skill.
Key steps to a compelling story
In case you are wondering, these are the 4 steps to creating your own compelling story. There are more details to each steps but I will leave it as is for now, maybe one day I will have a time to review the content and write another article
- The set up
- The struggle
- The solution